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Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

It's a challenge to transform the Nutcracker Suite's romantic orchestra into jumpin' jazz melodies, but that's exactly what Duke Ellington and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, did.

Ellington's band members were not so sure that a classical ballet could become a cool-cat jazz number. But Duke and Billy, inspired by their travels and by musical styles past and present, infused the composition with Vegas glitz, Hollywood glamour, and even a little New York jazz.

CD recording of the Ellington/Strayhorn composition included.

Publishers Weekly
Putting a jazzy spin on the holiday, Celenza tells the true story of how Duke Ellington recorded his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Tate’s mixed-media artwork keeps tempo with Celenza’s vibrant writing (“A little Vegas glitz appeared here and there.... Hollywood glamour mixed with the Harlem Renaissance as each dance tune fell into place”), incorporating piano keys, musical notation, swirling colors, and Nutcracker motifs spiced up with a big-band flavor. An upbeat Christmas book about breaking boundaries and experimenting with new ideas. Includes a recording of Ellington’s suite. Ages 6 9. (Nov.)

Kirkus Reviews
Drawing from letters, memoirs, photos, film and recordings, Celenza presents a spry account of the 1960 composition and recording of a decidedly swinging Nutcracker Suite. Laced with invented dialogue and crisply delineating the close collaboration between Ellington and his brilliant, classically trained friend, Billy Strayhorn, the narrative traces the piece from radical idea to work in progress to exuberant recording session. Such a bold departure--classical ballet into jazz suite--required convincing: Both the recording exec and the band were initially dubious. Text and art sync around the premise that the musical traditions and global influences of the cities in which Duke and "Strays" worked--L.A., New York, New Orleans, Vegas--infused the evolving composition with distinct rhythms and cultural metaphors. The brilliant music cues Tate's full-bleed mixed-media pictures. Bold ink strokes outline and define figures--Duke's quizzical forehead and Strays' distinctive cheekbones are expressive squiggles--and create movement across paint-spattered spreads studded with stars, snowflakes and musical notes. The palette marries rich violet-blues with hot, harmonious yellows, sepia and crimson. The delightful accompanying full-length CD is a must-listen, since text and art mesh with it in genuine symbiosis, song by song. Indeed, the absence of a track list--ideally, integrated within the relevant page spreads--is a missed opportunity for deepening context. Still, real cool. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-9)

New York Times
In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn reinvented Tchaikovsky’s holiday ballet classic as a jazzy, brassy “melting pot of musical styles past and present.” Celenza, a musicologist, loosely reimagines the recording sessions; spread by spread, each movement takes off. Tate (“Black All Around!,” “She Loved Baseball”) mixes lively images of the musicians playing with scenes that evoke, alternately, the “Russian Dance,” (now “The Volga Vouty”) and “Waltz of the Flowers” (“Dance of the Floreadores”). The book includes a CD recording of the song.